Wednesday, February 28, 2018

The Best Government Money Can Buy Is Not Very Good

Mark Roman posted this photo to facebook with the comment:
"In the statehouse hall. Asked her if I could hire a lobbyist for my cause.
She told me I would have to pay. Probably $5,000 and up."

My husband went to our state capitol yesterday as a citizen lobbyist opposed to LD1781, the tax giveaway bill for General Dynamics/Bath Iron Works. By citizen lobbyist I mean that Mark was unpaid, funding his own travel expenses, and without the wherewithall to wine and dine legislators. 

He met up with the lady above who was tabling in halls thronged with people whose shoes cost more than many Maine families make in a week.

As reported by Maria Villenueve in the Portland Press Herald last week, Maine lobbyists more than doubled their income in 2017. Among the biggest spenders on lobbying was BIW, whose parent company General Dynamics has deep, deep pockets.

Bruce Gagnon lobbying Taxation Committee co-chair Rep. Ryan Tipping
There were several other citizen lobbyists on hand including Bruce Gagnon on the 16th day of a hunger strike until the bill is defeated or passed. (The bill was tabled yesterday by the Taxation Committee yet again with the explanation that the Maine Revenue Service still didn't understand the amendments BIW wrote to make the bill more palatable.)

Cynthia Howard lobbying Taxation Committee co-chair Sen. Dana Dow

Many of those present have joined Bruce's fast in solidarity; there are 27 people now listed on a calendar that supporter Mary Kate Small is keeping. 

Also, many of those present had been arrested outside BIW protesting at "christenings" of warships -- see here and here for a complete list of those names. John Morris (left in the photo above) is one of many, and Peter Morgan (right) has been a dedicated supporter during the arrests and subsequent trials.

You can read Kevin Miller's coverage of yesterday's lobbying effort in this Portland Press Herald article, "Controversial bill to give BIW tax credits stalls in State House, extending foe's food strike."

To support the resistance to LD1781 you can:
  • sign a petition here
  • contact your own legislators using this handy tool
  • use the list below to contact the Taxation Committee members and the bill's co-sponsors,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

Photo credits: Martha Spiess, Peter Woodruff and Mark Roman

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Corporate Press In Maine Won't Publish Op-Eds By Leaders Opposing Tax Giveaway For General Dynamics

I've now sent two op-eds (to the Kennebec Journal and the Bangor Daily News in January) and a letter to the editor (to the Morning Sentinel, in February) about objections to the corporate tax giveway proposed for General Dynamics/BIW as LD1781. None have been published despite phone calls from the admins who are in charge of verifying authorship. 

Might Maine's corporate press be afraid to anger General Dynamics? 

The Times Record, which runs a monthly column from Peaceworks of Greater Brunswick, just rejected Bruce Gagnon's op-ed about his hunger strike against the bill. He included things BIW workers have told him as he handed out leaflets outside the gates of the shipyard. Needless to say, no reporters from the corporate press (including "public" radio or tv) have showed up to cover this story. $60 million for an already obscenely wealthy corporation to come directly from Maine taxpayers is not a story worth covering, right? Meanwhile they run the op-eds of the bill's sponsors and retired BIW executives. 

Here I let off steam by composing a response in the form of an open letter to the Times Record editor who rejected Gagnon's piece.

Dear Mr. Swinconeck,
I was disappointed by your objections to the op-ed you rejected from Bruce Gagnon. As a citizen journalist who works to bring real information unfiltered by corporate allegiance, I frankly thought your objections were weak.

1) Bruce quotes workers who are afraid to use their names. You call it hearsay when a reporter quotes an unnamed source? Give me a break.

2)  The 43,000 kids in poverty (and 20,000 in "deep" poverty) is based on U.S. Census data as reported by Maine Equal Justice Partners in this brief:

As an editor in Maine, shouldn't you be well aware of this statistic?

3) Bruce has been attending all the work sessions for LD1781 in order to hear the veiled theats delivered by BIW vice president John Fitzgerald. Has the Times Record sent anyone to these hearings? If not, you might read the op-eds by BIW past president or Rep. Jennifer DeChant, the bill's sponsor, to source this threat.

4) You wrote: "If Bruce hasn't eaten since he went on hunger strike two weeks ago, how is he still able to demonstrate outside BIW?" It's clear you don't know much about hunger strikes. Perhaps do some reading on Palestinian political prisoners or California prison inmates to learn more about what the human spirit and body are capable of?

I would like to make one last suggestion. Send a reporter down to the gates of BIW to report on Bruce's hunger strike and on his conversations with BIW workers (including, on one occasion recently, John Fitzgerald himself, who yelled at him). Or maybe you are afraid to do this because Fitzgerald might yell at you?
Lisa Savage

Below in red you can see Gagnon's responses and, in purple, Swinconeck's original email to Rosalie Paul, who coordinates the Peaceworks monthly submissions:

From: John Swinconeck <>
Subject: Re: PeaceWorks commentary for Wed. 2-28-18
Date: February 26, 2018 at 12:48:59 PM EST
To: Rosalie Paul <>

Hi Rosalie,
Got a few issues that need to be addressed before we publish this:
 There's no attribution to the workers he cites, and I'm afraid we're going into hearsay territory with this;

I certainly did not ask them for their names.  Why would I make this up?

 I'd like some attribution to "43,000 kids living in poverty in Maine" — where did that number come from?

“Without those investments, it is highly unlikely BIW could continue as a viable shipbuilding operation today.”            

 If Bruce hasn't eaten since he went on hunger strike two weeks ago, how is he still able to demonstrate outside BIW?

With determination and shaky body parts....why question my integrity about this?

Friday, February 23, 2018

Troops To Teachers Is What They're Gearing Up For As Proposal To Arm Teachers Floods The Airwaves

Display at a national education conference in Washington DC March, 2016

The distraction machine I call the demagogue with bad hair ventured into new territory this week by claiming that teachers could ward off assault weapons if they themselves were adept at using firearms.

Teachers unions and prominent educators immediately denounced the idea of arming teachers.

Experienced teachers pointed out that teenage students could be expected to access teachers' guns, dedicated teachers said they would resign rather than be trained for concealed carry, and jokesters responded with a dose of reality about school budgets:

But here's the thing. The so-called "troops to teachers" movement has been around for a while, and I think this latest use of school mass killings is intended to hasten its progress.

Troops to teachers tabling at the Teaching and Learning Conference 2016 in Washington DC

Public school teachers come in all kinds. Some throw desks when students don't get the answer right. Some teach real history and connect it to current events, and they leave the textbook full of lies gathering dust on the shelves. Many have anger management and substance abuse issues. Some are not really school employees but function as such without being subject to the same certification requirements as actual teachers (for example, Jobs for Maine's Graduates instructors).

Then there's Junior ROTC like they have at Marjorie Stoneham Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

Ad created by David Swanson, World Beyond War

A leading organizer against the militarization of public school, Pat Elder, wrote this excellent analysis of how JROTC functions to replace curriculum and teaching staff for students as young as middle school. Elder reported that, "There are 1,600 American high schools that enroll students in military-run marksmanship programs, teaching children as young as 13 to shoot lethal weapons." He found that the state of Florida 
"allows students enrolled in JROTC to satisfy the curricular requirements of physical education, biology, physical science, art, and life management. JROTC is regarded as an Advanced Placement course...Many of these courses are taught by retired enlisted soldiers with no teaching credentials and little or no college education. "
Elder subsequently reported on his research about school militarization in an interview with Democracy Now! which you can listen to here.

As a teacher I feel sad about this creeping takeover of the promise once offered by free public education. I don't think it will affect my career much since I'm at the end anyway and the day a pistol packing colleague arrives is the day I head out the door. (Yup, I've had to put up with armed law enforcement in schools from the day I started teaching and no, it really isn't that much different.)

But I worry about how my grandchildren and the other young ones will be affected by public schools that become an arm of the Pentagon, a branch of government that is already gobbling up most available federal funding.

The kids whose parents can afford to send them to progressive private schools will be insulated from the risks of armed teachers if not from armed lunatics who strike regularly at every sort of location.

The kids whose parents are Native people accustomed to a very different model of educating youngsters may be unschooled in greater numbers.

The kids whose parents don't care much for material things may be homeschooled in greater numbers. I may yet get my dream of bartering literacy education for health care in a cooperative arrangement with doctors and dentists who opt out of the public schools. Because I've seen some great homeschooling results -- but I've also seen a homeschooled eight year old that still couldn't read.

My husband, not an educator, has another concern. He points out that veterans have an extremely high rate of attempted and completed suicide, often with a gun. Who will protect our children from that?

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

17 People Have Joined A Hunger Strike Opposing Tax Giveaway For General Dynamics

Augusta, Maine -- As a controversial bill to extend a $60 million tax giveaway to General Dynamics’ Bath Iron Works shipyard is set for its second work session, 17 people have joined an extended hunger strike opposing LD 1781.

The work session for the bill co-sponsored by Rep. Jennifer DeChant and Sen. Eloise Vitelli will consider amendments written by General Dynamics’ legal consultants at Preti Flaherty. The amendments are intended to make the bill more palatable to Maine taxpayers, perhaps by breaking the $60 million over 20 years into two $30 million tax giveaways of ten years’ duration each.  Currently the bill is tabled in the Joint Standing Committee on Taxation.

Hunger striker Bruce Gagnon of Bath is expected to attend the work session February 22 at 1:00 pm in State House Room 127, but no members of the public will be allowed to speak. Gagnon will begin his 11th day of fasting as he bears witness to BIW executives and Maine legislators contemplating a tax break for a highly profitable corporation, one that paid its CEO $21 million last year.

Gagnon stated, “I’m 11 days into this hunger strike and spending a lot of time at BIW talking with workers.  There are many workers who understand GD’s fiscal posture and oppose this fat welfare subsidy.”

Opponents of the bill have published more than 68 letters and op-eds in 20 Maine media outlets.

All objected to Maine taxpayer subsidies for the General Dynamics Corporation, the 5th largest weapons contractor in the world and owner of BIW. Although jobs are often cited as the rationale for tax giveaways, letters have pointed out that General Dynamics has used past Maine subsidies -- $200 million since 1997 – to ‘mechanize and modernize’  the operation which has led to job loss.  And also that General Dynamics has used the money to buy back their own stocks driving market value higher.

Among those who have had letters to the editor published is Mark Roman of Solon, who also testified at the public hearing for LD 1781 in opposition to the bill. “I cannot stand by and watch Maine lawmakers waste money that could be spent on education, health care and housing for the 43,000 children in Maine living in poverty today,” Roman said.

People across Maine and from away -- including California and Vermont -- have signed up to fast in solidarity with Gagnon.

Many will fast for a day or once a week, but Gagnon has indicated he plans to fast continuously until after the vote is taken by the legislature. 

Solidarity hunger strikers:
2/22  Meredith Bruskin, Peggy Akers, Cindy Piester, Ken Jones
2/23  Connie Jenkins, Mary Beth Sullivan, Bob Klotz, Ken Jones
2/24  Cynthia Howard, Peter Morgan, Larry Dansinger, Ken Jones
2/25  Cynthia Howard, Ken Jones
2/26  Don Kimball, Connie Jenkins, Cynthia Howard, Richard Cate, Ken Jones

2/27  Barbara, Cynthia Howard, Ken Jones
2/28  Cynthia Howard, Ken Jones

A video made outside the shipyard gates: Day Six Hunger Strike at Bath Ironworks

Partial list of letters and columns published in opposition to LD1781:
No tax giveaways for General Dynamics by Don Kimball (Bangor Daily News 2/21/18)
Maine can’t afford to give General Dynamics more money by Don Kimball (Portland Press Herald 2/21/18)
No corporate welfare for General Dynamics by Doug Allen (Bangor Daily News 2/20/18)
No tax giveaways for General Dynamics by Connie Jenkins (Bangor Daily News 2/19/18)
No more corporate welfare by Ilze Petersons (Bangor Daily News 2/17/18)
Collusion’s close to home at BIW by Dan Marks (Portland Press Herald 2/15/18)
No tax handouts for General Dynamic by Rob Shetterly (Bangor Daily News 2/15/18)
Fear card by Mary Donnelly (Times Record 2/14/18)
Op-ed: An opportunity for choosing people over profit by Rosalie Paul (Times Record 2/14/18)
Corporate welfare for GD by Karen Wainberg (Times Record 2/13/18)
Safety on our highways trumps BIW tax break by Cushman Anthony (Portland Press Herald 2/13/18)
Corporate Welfare for General Dynamics by Russell Wray (Sun Journal 2/11/18)
No tax break for General Dynamics by Doug Rawlings (Daily Bulldog 2/9/18)
The Right Thing by Eric Herter (Times Record  2/9/18)
Tax break for BIW by Jim Anderberg (Lewiston Sun Journal 2/2/18)
No tax giveaways for General Dynamics by Leslie Manning (Bangor Daily News 1/30/18)
No need for Maine taxpayers to subsidize BIW by Mary Beth Sullivan (Portland Press Herald 1/28/18)
General Dynamics doesn't need tax handouts by Robert Hayes (Bangor Daily News 1/25/18)
No Tax Giveaway for General Dynamics by Mark Roman (Morning Sentinel 1/18/18)
General Dynamics has asked for enough money by Peter Morgan (Portland Press Herald 1/3/18)
No more handouts for General Dynamics by Dud Hendricks (Bangor Daily News 12/25/17)

No More Tax Breaks for General Dynamics and BIW by Lisa Savage (Kennebec Journal 12/3/17)

Sunday, February 18, 2018

If You're In Congress, You're Feeding At The War Machine Trough; What Happened To Chellie Pingree?

Once upon a time there was an organic farmer and mom who got involved in local Maine politics. She went on to head up the liberal think tank Common Cause, and then ran for Congress from Maine's 1st District.

A bunch of us visited the newly elected Chellie Pingree, a Democrat, in her Portland office. She didn't much appreciate peaceniks schooling her on the economic analysis showing how building weapons is a bad jobs program -- not just in terms of morality, but in terms of jobs. She told us she used to travel around for Common Cause giving presentations on that very same body of research, "The U.S. employment effects of military and domestic spending priorities" (Pollin & Peletier, 2011). Finally, we thought, we had someone representing our interests in Congress.

A few months later I birddogged Pingree at an appearance she had announced at a local nursery. That was where she told me that Democratic Party leadership insisted that she fall in line or become "like Dennis Kucinich" i.e. no one would work with her. Also that she had better support big Pentagon contracts for Bath Iron Works or else.

Pingree explained to me when I challenged her about conversion of BIW to peaceful production, "You get to Congress and they say 'Do you want to put three thousand people out of work your first term in office?'" 

A picture is worth 1,000 words, right? Nowadays replace Mike Michaud's face with Bruce Poliquin's face -- but little else has changed since Pingree et al. pledged allegiance to General Dynamics in 2014 as another nuclear-capable warship was "christened" at BIW.

Rep. Chellie Pingree, Rep. Bruce Poliquin, Sen. Susan Collins and Sen. Angus King palling it up with the Secretary of the Navy during his visit to General Dynamics' Bath Iron Works shipyard in September, 2017.

Pingree is now in her third term and here's how she was quoted in a story in the Portland Press Herald yesterday about BIW's contract to submit a design for a warship to launch missiles at China and Russia:

“The contract to create a conceptual design for the FFG(X) is a huge opportunity for BIW that could lead to enough work to keep the shipyard busy for years,” Pingree said in a statement. “I’m glad BIW will have the chance to show yet again the skills and expertise that we have here in Maine. I have no doubt that the shipyard’s design will be a strong one and highly competitive in this process.”

This is how you stay in Congress. You do what the big campaign donors say, and you make a big fuss about how having a D after your name makes you hugely different from someone with an R after their name.

Tell that to the people menaced, killed or maimed by weapons sent by the U.S. government.

Back when the Soviet Union had folded and we were all looking forward to a big "peace dividend" with recaptured funds no longer needed for Pentagon contracting, there was a rally for conversion at BIW. (This is years before General Dynamics bought them.) Big names like Democratic Senator George Mitchell and President Bill Clinton spoke at a BIW Labor Day Rally on Sep. 5, 1994.

Looks like we got fooled again.

Now neoliberal Democrats including Jennifer DeChant and Eloise Vitelli of Bath are carrying water for General Dynamics. They're trying to help GD get a tax break of $60 million over 20 years -- or maybe two tax breaks of $30 million over 10 years -- to help them stay "competitive" at the federal defense feeding trough.

A work session to examine amendments written by BIW and intended to make LD1781 more palatable to Maine taxpayers will be held Thursday, February 22 at 1pm in State House Room 127. If you can, lobby your own legislators to oppose this bill.

The public will not be allowed to speak, but expect to hear a lot from BIW vice president John Fitzgerald. That's his dad at the podium with Clinton and Mitchell in 1994 calling for conversion of the shipyard. What happened?

Here's a partial list of the many, many letters and op-eds from opponents of the bill that have appeared in Maine newspapers recently:

No tax giveaways for General Dynamics by Connie Jenkins (Bangor Daily News 2/19/18)
No more corporate welfare by Ilze Petersons (Bangor Daily News 2/17/18)
Collusion’s close to home at BIW by Dan Marks (Portland Press Herald 2/15/18)
No tax handouts for General Dynamic by Rob Shetterly (Bangor Daily News 2/15/18)
Fear card by Mary Donnelly (Times Record 2/14/18)
Op-ed: An opportunity for choosing people over profit by Rosalie Paul (Times Record 2/14/18)
Corporate welfare for GD by Karen Wainberg (Times Record 2/13/18)
Safety on our highways trumps BIW tax break by Cushman Anthony (Portland Press Herald 2/13/18)
Corporate Welfare for General Dynamics by Russell Wray (Sun Journal 2/11/18)
No tax break for General Dynamics by Doug Rawlings (Daily Bulldog 2/9/18)

And from Bruce Gagnon, now in his 7th day of a hunger strike outside BIW opposing the tax giveaway bill,
Maine can't afford to give GD/BIW $30 million either.